The Port of Olympia commission Monday spent about an hour on the topic of fracking sand, hearing from those on both sides of the issue, as well as from a longshore worker who raised concerns about protesters and worker safety.
Commissioner E.J. Zita found herself in the role of peacemaker after Commissioner Bill McGregor got into a heated exchange with an audience member, and Zita presented a breakdown of the costs and benefits of a recent fracking train shipment that was blocked by protesters.
Commissioner Joe Downing acknowledged the passion of Monday’s testimony and mildly disagreed with Zita’s presentation.
And it all happened during the first hour of the meeting.
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It began with several people speaking out against the port’s handling of ceramic proppants, or fracking sand, which the port sends by train to North Dakota to aid in the oil extraction process.
“The proppants must go,” said Bourtai Hargrove of Olympia as she pounded her fist. “We can’t let the port, which we sustain with our tax dollars, aid and abet the fossil fuel industry that is destroying our planet.”
Three women also gave a combined statement in verse.
“Filthy cargoes we despair, they hover in the fog and air, no more, no more,” they said, as part of a three-minute presentation.
But the meeting turned serious after Keith Bausch, a member and former president of the local longshore union that serves the port, asked those in the audience to consider worker safety.
Later, Bausch alleged the following incidents recently at or near the marine terminal.
▪ Someone threw a flare onto the terminal.
▪ Protesters have rushed the security gates at the terminal and threatened to cut the gates.
▪ Marine terminal workers have been buzzed by drones.
▪ The Washington State Patrol explosives unit recently responded to a bomb threat near the marine terminal.
“Those of you on the (anti-fracking) side of the issue, consider the safety of our workers,” Bausch told the audience.
Longshore worker Duane Napoleon accused Zita, who teaches at The Evergreen State College, of inciting her students to protest and trespass.
That led Bev Bassett of Olympia, who was sitting in the audience, to call out, “Point of order.”
“This is inappropriate testimony,” she said about Napoleon’s comments.
He was allowed to complete his three minutes of public comment.
During commission response, McGregor got into a heated exchange with an audience member.
Finally, Zita had this to say:
“We are going to disagree about things,” she told the audience. “There are people in this room who disagree about things, there are decision-makers in this room who disagree about things, and there are those in the community who disagree about things. But safety, respect and civility are goals we all share. We can disagree, but we can still treat each other with respect. That means not harassing longshore workers and not making port personnel feel unsafe.”
It also means not making residents feel unsafe, she said, referring to protesters who recently blocked a fracking sand train.
“They have the right to peacefully protest,” she said.
As for the fracking train shipment, Zita, after checking with the port’s finance director, said the port netted a little more than $5,000 on that shipment.
Meanwhile, it cost the Olympia Police Department, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington State Patrol about $40,000 to remove protesters, she said.
The port didn’t have to pay those costs, but taxpayers do, Zita said.
Downing countered that the port has been handling fracking sand for about four years, which has “definitely covered that (law enforcement cost) in terms of revenue.”
The port also pays $62,000 a year in leasehold tax to the city of Olympia, he said.
“I do believe the port should benefit from police protection like any citizen or business,” he said, adding that he hopes the train-blocking protest doesn’t happen again.
“But I appreciate everyone’s passion on the subject,” Downing said.